When Tolerance Becomes Sin
Robert Wurtz II
But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2:20)
However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews (John 7:13).
His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 9:22-23).
After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews…, (John 19:38a).
While the church at Ephesus was leaving their first love, the church at Thyatira was growing in it. Perhaps this loving environment was fertile ground for that “Jezebel of a woman” to flourish (Revelation 2:20). Love puts the best construction on peoples’ behavior and isn’t quick to condemn. It is long-suffering and may tolerate sin when it should confront it. The situation at Thyatira is an ancient lesson on two things:
- Finding the balance between love and holiness.
- There is a pattern to how the enemy tries to control God’s people.
In this entry, I intend to explore these two important questions. If we fail to strike a balance between love and holiness we risk tolerating behavior that seeks to wrestle control of the churches away from Christ. The enemy uses a plethora of people from all backgrounds to do his bidding. We must identify the strategies and people he is using in this place and time.
Tolerance as an Ideology Infiltrating the Churches
It’s important to point out at the beginning that Thyatira faced a similar challenge that we face today. Our society has emphasized tolerance to the place that it’s nearly impossible to challenge any kind of sinful behavior, especially sexual sin, for which “that woman Jezebel” is known. While Romans 12:1f warns us not to allow the world to force us into conformity with its godless ways, our standards are eroded daily by the culture.
Secular philosopher John Rawls believed that “members of an intolerant sect in a tolerant society will, over time, acquire the tolerance of the wider society.”(1) This view basically says that in time the churches will be influenced by the culture until they tolerate all kinds of sin. It depends completely on the willingness of believers to compromise their values rather than maintain them.
Secular philosopher Sam Harris took it much farther saying, “society should be unwilling to tolerate unjustified religious beliefs about morality, spirituality, politics, and the origin of humanity, especially beliefs which promote violence.”(1) Leaders within the churches with liberal leanings tend to adopt secular standards of tolerance opening the floodgates to rampant sin within our ranks. It gets harder by the day to implement church discipline and enforce biblical standards.
It is this cultural environment that produces a similar situation to Thyatira. People who behave badly are allowed to persist because the members have been indoctrinated not to judge and to tolerate immoral behavior. It is a formidable diabolic strategy and one that we do well to combat. The great test of the 21st Century will be learning to love without compromising God’s word in the process. A church that fears offending people more than offending God is nothing more than salt that has lost its savor.
There is an old saying that says, “one bad apple will spoil the bunch.” This was the danger at Thyatira. Notice the phrase from our text, “you tolerate that woman Jezebel.” The Greek word is eao and it means “to allow” or “to let be.” The implication is that everyone knew what was going on, but nobody confronted this person. Why? Was it because they were too loving to judge or could it be something else? I suggest they were scared. It would make sense because of the “Jezebel” moniker. Queen Jezebel loved to intimidate people or strong-arm them into doing her will. When she didn’t get her way, she killed the person. Elijah ran from her, but Elisha put her down. Perhaps we should review some familiar ground. What’s the big deal about a “Jezebel” in the churches?
The Chinese have an old idiom that says, “kill the chicken, scare the monkeys.” It deals with making an example out of someone to scare others into submission. This is an ancient strategy of Satan and It’s what the unbelieving Jewish leaders did to potential followers of Jesus. It started off as little threats and escalated to murder. They threatened believers with ex-communication from the faith community, and the only place they could express their faith, the synagogue. Over time they added a benediction to their daily synagogue prayers that cursed believers in Jesus (Birkat ha-Minim).
Jesus had friends who wouldn’t openly support him because they feared what others would say or do. Joseph of Arimathea secretly followed Jesus because he feared retaliation from the unbelieving Jews. Like John the Baptist before Him, who was a type of Elijah (Matthew 17:12), Jesus was resisted by forces akin to what challenged Elijah. These demons inspired strategies in the leaders to scare people off and minimize John and Jesus’ influence.
Understand that Elijah was a mighty prophet, but spiritual forces, operating through the notorious Jezebel, employed the “kill the chicken, and scare the monkeys” strategy to silence him. Those same forces were at work in a person at Thyatira, teaching the people fornication and idolatry until they knew the depths of Satan (Revelation 2:20-24). Jesus referred to this person as “that woman Jezebel,” who used the prophetic to gain notoriety and could have been a man or a woman. Again, the “Jezebel” moniker brings to mind her ancient, diabolical character traits.
Jezebel and Envy
Undoubtedly, the godless leadership, whom Jesus called children of the Devil (John 8:44), enjoyed wielding control over people through intimidation. When the evil forces inside them couldn’t scare Jesus into silence or put Him to flight as they did Elijah, they attacked His character and intimidated His followers. They did everything in their power to diminish the influence of Jesus. Why? Was it a mystery? No. Even Pilate knew they hated Jesus because of envy (Matthew 27:17-18).
The evil forces inside the unbelieving Jews stirred up envy like Jezebel stirred up Ahab to do evil (1 Kings 21:25). Before it was over, parents wouldn’t even acknowledge that Jesus healed their blind son (John 9:22-23). What a disgrace. “Jezebel” stole the honor that was rightfully due to God. Yet, envy is defined as “displeasure and anger at the success of others — especially a rival.” It stems from pride and self-exaltation. The question is, why would Joseph of Arimathea yield to the whims and will of these unbelieving Jews? Why would he hide his support for Jesus to please them? He probably wasn’t spiritual enough (so to speak) to ward off the spirit of Jezebel that kept him intimidated.
Ancient Patterns of Intimidation and Control
Understand that the unbelieving Jews, full of the devil, hated Jesus, so you had best not be caught reading His sermons, attending His meetings, or saying amen if you hear Him speak. Many people, including Joseph of Aramathea, allowed these godless men to control them in this way. What did he do? He cautiously slipped around, lurking about, following Jesus. He didn’t dare show support publicly. In modern times, the spirit of Jezebel, operating in the unbelieving Jews, would have had him liking every Instagram and Facebook post on the internet except those posted by Jesus.
I’m sometimes bewildered and amazed at people who allow others to dictate who they will and won’t support. Jezebel put Elijah on the run, and he fled to a cave. Understand that he wasn’t running from a woman; he was oppressed by the demonic spirit she was moving in. As great a man of God as he was, he couldn’t handle that demonic spirit. His protege, with a double portion of the Spirit, would deal with it.
The spirit of Jezebel, in my view, is more of a demonic strategy than an actual demon. Many demons who seek to destroy the work of God follow the pattern of Jezebel. Below are just some of the diabolical character traits that manifest:
- They inspire a domineering attitude that intimidates in order to control everything and everyone.
- They wear people down until they give up and, in time, won’t even acknowledge their own family, much less a man or woman of God.
- They use fornication to annihilate marriages and destroy churches.
- They lure people into idolatries such as greed and covetousness.
John the Baptist was killed by a “Jezebel” type we know as Herodias. She was the vessel the enemy used to employ the “kill the chicken, to scare the monkeys” strategy and undoubtedly instilled fear in the people. “Jezebel” is persistent and, in time, wears out the saints until they do the enemy’s will and when they won’t it destroys the person either physically or in some other way. It’s a repulsive spirit, like confronting the smell of raw sewage; most people avoid it.
The Thyatirans were loving and tender people who desired peace. They didn’t want trouble so they tolerated behavior they should have confronted and stopped. Perhaps they were too soft and inexperienced to deal with such scoundrels (2 Chronicles 13:7 ESV). Maybe they consented to this “Jezebel” to avoid confrontation. After all, nobody wants to be worn down. Loving people are vulnerable because they detest conflict. This is where “Jezebel” thrives.
The same demonic forces that challenged Elijah (Jezebel), John the Baptist (Herodias), Jesus (the unbelieving Jews), and the church at Thyatira (that woman “Jezebel”) are alive and well today. The ancient demonic strategies of control, intimidation, and fornication work tirelessly to put preachers on the run, destroy churches, and silence the voices of truth. Understand that there are many ways to “kill the chicken and scare the monkeys.” Meanwhile, the same reaction among the people is found. The “fear of the Jews” is replaced with fear of_________ (insert a name).
Are you living in fear and intimidation? Then you may well be living like the church at Thyatira. If you are afraid to publicly support someone who you know is a legitimate man or woman of God for fear of some person, then that person may be operating by demonic influence. Moreover, suppose you feel compelled to support some person or face backlash and feel pressured to snub other legitimate Christians. In that case, you need to ask yourself what is provoking me to behave outwardly in a way contrary to my heart. The chief rulers snubbed good and godly people because they loved the praise of men more than the praise that comes from God (John 12:42-43). Jesus said, “You tolerate that woman Jezebel” to compel them to act and put an end to it.
The enemy uses “Jezebels” to destroy Godly ministers, their message, and their influence for God’s kingdom. At Thyatira, the person led people into damnable sin unthwarted. For the unbelieving Jews, demonic forces tapped into their envy to provoke them to destroy Jesus and His message. The enemy will patiently and persistently employ all these tactics and more to infiltrate churches to bring death and destruction. If we overlook these warning signs, if we tolerate bad actors, we are ignoring the enemy invading the camp. The churches that tolerate these things need to step up and remove them before more souls are lost. Time will tell.
Yet Jesus gives those who yield to these destructive spirits (demons) an opportunity to repent. The old KJV says He gave her a “space” to repent from the Greek word chronos or time. At Thyatira, the person persisted in the behavior until judgment was the only recourse. We read, “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation unless they repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 2:22 NKJV) Notice the violence of these words, “I will cast (throw) them into the bed of suffering. Jesus judged the person with suffering and sickness. God is no respecter of persons or churches. These people need to recognize and renounce these diabolic behaviors before death and destruction hit.
When Tolerance Becomes Sin
Whether motivated by love or intimidation the result is the same; sin that ought to be rebuked and resisted is tolerated. There are many areas where tolerance is appropriate, but compromising God’s word isn’t one of them.
The intimidation comes from both within and without. Bad behavior of people inside the churches may intimidate, while the world around us intimidates us to just tolerate it. This is where those verses about fearing God rather than people need to be front and center in our minds. We must know and believe that Christ is determined to have a Church without spots and wrinkles. He is returning for a Bride who has made herself ready. If we tolerate behavior that stains the wedding gown we have lost our way and betrayed the God who loved us and His Son who died for us. Yet it is certain that Christ is no respecter of persons. What He has done to other offenders He will do again.